Nikon 18-55mm Lens Review

By Scott Gietler

Nikon 18-55mm Lens Review

By Scott Gietler



If you love photographing fish and marine life like I do, it can be frustrating trying to photograph a medium-size fish when you are always diving with an ultra-wide fisheye lens, or a macro lens.



I looked into purchasing the Sigma 17-70mm lens, but I would need the lens, a new port extension, and a zoom ring - now we are potentially over $700, and my new lens budget is almost empty.


So I picked up a Nikon 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G ED II lens (not the VR version) for under $100, and a Hoya +2 diopter. I was quite pleased with the results! 


Underwater setup that I tested


I used the lens with my Nikon D300 behind my Sea & Sea 8-inch dome port with no extension ring. It also fits behind a compact dome port + 20mm extension ring. I used the zoom ring for my tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, which is actually the zoom ring for the canon 16-35mm F2.8 lens. It was a little large, but putting a strip of velcro over the 18-55mm lens allowed the zoom ring to fit on snugly. Since the lens has an auto-focus motor built in, it will auto-focus with any Nikon dSLR camera.


nikon 18-55mm example photo

I found creative underwater photography, like zooming and panning, was easier to test using a mid-range zoom lens. F11, 1/3rd shutter speed, 34mm


Lens Magnification Ratio


I tested the magnification ratio at 55mm at slightly better than 3:1. With the hoya +2 diopter, I got almost 2:1 magnification, just as good as the Sigma 17-70mm! Of course I loose some magnification behind a dome port, but that will be true of any mid-range lens (I recommend using all mid-range lenses behind a dome port).


Close-focusing distance


The lens does not have a great close-focus distance, but it is not bad either. Without the diopter, at 55mm it was 5 inches from the end of the lens, 9 inches from the back of the lens. The +2 diopter improved that to 3 1/2 inches working distance, and 7 1/2 inches from the back of the lens.


Auto-focus speed


Underwater, the lens focused fairly fast, even in dimly-lighted conditions. When using a diopter, the lens sometimes couldn't focus on items very far away, because the virtual image in front of the dome port was just out of range of the lens. 


Sample Nikon 18-55mm sharpness & underwater photos


I was pleasantly surprised with the sharpness of my photos. Although not as sharp as say, my nikon 60mm macro lens, sharpness was more than acceptable to me. Lighting the photos was much easier than lighting with my tokina 10-17mm fisheye on, and it was easy to shoot at small apertures like F10 or F14.


According to sharpness tests at Photodo, the sweet spot for the 18-55mm lens is F8-F11 at 18mm, F11-F16 at 35mm, and F14-F18 at 55mm. MTF results at the sweet spots actually looked better than the Sigma 17-70mm at 18mm and 35mm, and comparable at 55mm at F16, although the Nikon 18-55mm does not do well at 55mm from F5.6 to F8.


I suspect if I had shot with a smaller dome port, without a diopter, at wider apertures my results would not be as good, but I haven't confirmed this.


nikon 18-55mm underwater photo

Sea fans, F14 at 18mm, using side-lighting and back-lighting.


nikon 18-55mm underwater photo

Bat stars, F13, at 31mm focal length


starfish underwater photo with nikon 18-55mm lens

Starfish, F20 at 55mm


Nikon 18-55mm Conclusions


This kit lens is a good mid-range choice for people who want an inexpensive addition to their arsenal for underwater photography, especially if they have been shooting mostly wide-angle and macro. For marine life photos, this range is ideal because you can frame skittish fish perfectly.


Stopped down, this lens performs well, which is easy to do if you are lighting your subject with strobes. If you need to shoot ambient light shots wide-open underwater, you might be better off with a different mid-range lens. If you are photographing fish, you can also use your macro lens behind a dome port.


Further Reading



The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips


Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.



i just get a second hand

i just get a second hand aquatica ad100 domeport 8" ,i have never use at the moment
do i need an extension ring?? what are they for?

in the aquatica domeport manual says i need the 18463, for this lens 18-55mm..

i dont want to spend 200 for that ring,
with the diopter will be ok?


Great review! I purchased the

Great review! I purchased the lens for €45 and am using it with a +2 diopter, works great! Especially under low visability conditions, you're able to create nice scenary pictures!



Nikon D90 BS Kinetics

Nice review Scott. I'm

Nice review Scott.
I'm starting on UWP and decided to use my 18-55 in a D80.
Following recommendations from the Vendor I've added a +2 diopter.
Dome is 8".
My question is: Since I've added diopter, is almost impossible to use the Auto focus mode. Because the focus of the lens is on top. there is no way to reach that. How do you do to focus using this lens? do you use any help such a light. Really will appreciate your comment.
Thank you, amazing site.

When I bought my Nikon

When I bought my Nikon 18-55mm lens I was surprised how cheap it was compared to other Nikon lenses I use. But I am still not very satisfied with the results when I shoot underwater with this lens. Underwater pictures I shot with the Nikon 18-55mm lens are never as good as the ones I shot with Nikons 10-24, 10.5mm, or my 60mm lenses .

Great review thank you. I

Great review thank you. I have tried this lens behind a dome port, without diopters, what i can say is firstly it performs fairly well with a single strobe (YS90Auto) but the photos are sharp at center with increasing (sometimes disturbing) softness around the edges. Good color rendition. Overall a great lens to use when travelling light.

Do you think adding a +2 diopter will improve the softness issue?

Aziz Saltik

Nice review Scott. Many

Nice review Scott. Many underwater photographers bag the old kit lens without even trying it underwater. I have got many excellent shots with this lens over the last five years and it is the perfect lens when you just don't know what you are going to see on a dive.

It is also the perfect lens for those moving from a compact to a DSLR.



Great review. I use this lens

Great review.
I use this lens (non VR version) a lot behind 6" and 8" Ikelite domes and with 0, +2 and +4 dioptres.
I believe the VR version is a tight fit in the Ikelite housing but can be made to work.
Here are some shots D80, 18-55m, Ikelite, Inon.

Nice! Is there a reason why

Nice! Is there a reason why you chose the non-VR version of this lens? Ken Rockwell swears he won't buy another non-VR lens anymore...

yes, I bought the lens for

yes, I bought the lens for underwater use, and VR doesn't matter when you are lighting with strobes. 

Scott Gietler Owner/Editor, Underwater Photography Guide & Bluewater Photo

Great write-up. I have

Great write-up. I have wondered about this lens underwater for some time. Been out of diving and underwater photography for some years and just getting back into the swing of things with a digital camera.

Thanks again for the information and keep up the good work